Content Warnings: homophobia (internalized and externalized), bullying, racism (specifically towards Native Americans), derogatory language, abuse (parental, psychological, and physical), shock/conversion therapy, misgendering, suicide, suicidal thoughts, sexism, disassociation, self-harm, possible PTSD, anxiety, asthma attacks, physical violence, police brutality, death of a parent, attempted rape
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The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal—at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.
Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.
A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA.
You know how sometimes you pick up a book and you hope to like it but you don’t expect it to blow your mind or anything? That’s exactly how I was with Ziggy, Stardust and Me which means I have an apology to make. James Brandon, I am so sorry I tried to put you and this story inside that box – I was wrong. This book was just…
First, we need to talk about Brandon’s writing style and use of language. These two things were unreal. His ability to make you feel exactly what the characters were feeling in such a deep way is something I rarely experience. His style and the entire tone of the story was also unique and kept me engaged the entire time.
When it comes to the characters they were all fleshed out so well. Each of them had a distinctive voice with their own thoughts, feelings, and conflicts. They orbited the same story while still being individuals with their own lives to figure out.
The things that make you different are your superpowers.
There is also some representation shown in the characters. The main character is gay, his best friend is biracial (half black half white), and the love interest is American Indian (Oglala Lakota Nation).
This is own voices for the LGBTQIAP+ rep but not for the American Indian which does make me hesitate a little. A huge part of this book is the racism shown towards American Indians during the 1970s and there is a large amount of derogatory language used towards them by the antagonists of the story. I did try to find some own voices reviews for this to see how American Indians felt about this coming from a white author but was unable to locate any. I just wanted to point that out in case any readers find the content hurtful.
Anybody that reads this should pay very close attention to the trigger warnings and be cautious and safe while reading. Brandon did not sugar coat anything and was very explicit about the ways queer people and non-whites were treated during the 1970s. It never felt like he included anything for shock factor though and instead included everything necessary to tell an important story.
Should you read this? I hope you do. This is one that flew under the radar this year and that is so disappointing. James Brandon has done an incredible thing with this novel and Jonathan’s story needs to be known.
A physical finished copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Will you be picking up Ziggy, Stardust and Me? What is the last book you read that surprised you? Let me know in the comments!